Mariucci out as Lions' coach
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Steve Mariucci came to the Detroit Lions with a winning NFL record, a penchant for offense and raised expectations.
He leaves as just another in a long list of coaching failures.
Mariucci's Lions did not win again until Week 5 and 7, when he posted ratings of 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Week 7 was the last time Mariucci received better than a 50 percent weekly rating. Even after the Lions' most recent win in Week 10, Mariucci only received a 38 percent rating. Take away Weeks 1, 5 and 7 and Mariucci never rose above a 38 percent rating.
He finished his tenure as Lions head coach with an 18 percent approval rating.
After two-plus seasons and a 15-28 record, Mariucci was fired Monday after he was unable to turn around a franchise with one playoff victory since 1957.
The Lions promoted defensive coordinator Dick Jauron to succeed him on an interim basis.
"We started off this season with high expectations," team president Matt Millen said. "We have underachieved as a football team."
Millen hired both Mariucci and his predecessor, Marty Mornhinweg, and drafted or signed most of the current players. Since Millen took over in 2001, Detroit is an NFL-worst 20-55.
Despite the results, the former NFL linebacker and TV analyst was given a five-year extension before this season.
Millen said he accepts accountability for Detroit's record during his four-plus seasons, but said a coaching change was necessary.
"This is a brutal business and at times, good people suffer a cruel fate," he said.
Millen also fired offensive line coach Pat Morris and tight ends coach Andy Sugarman, and demoted Ted Tollner from offensive coordinator to tight ends coach. Greg Olson will call plays as the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, starting Sunday at home against Minnesota.
Jauron said his first inclination was to not accept the job.
"It's hard for me to stand up here in this position because Steve is a friend," said Jauron, who had a 35-46 record as Chicago's head coach from 1999-2003.
After Detroit lost 27-7 to Atlanta on Thanksgiving to fall to 4-7, reports swirled that the team was considering firing Mariucci. When Mariucci was not dismissed during the weekend, some thought his job was safe for the final five games of the regular season.
"I was angry after that game," Millen said. "It was disturbing to watch and I didn't want to make a decision based on anger. We wanted to take our time, go through it logically, and think everything through."
The Lions have lost four of five games since a solid start put them atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. The team has collapsed on and off the field with players failing to produce and some bickering with one another and questioning the coaches' game plans.
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus said players were not notified of the firing until a previously scheduled team meeting was held Monday night.
"Something had to give, I guess," Backus told The Associated Press. "It's not my job to judge whether Mariucci did a good job or bad job, but we're in a bottom-line business and our bottom line hasn't been very good."
Mariucci has more than two years remaining on the $25 million contract he signed in 2003. The Michigan native came to the Lions from San Francisco, where he was fired with a 60-43 record over six seasons.
Mariucci was cut some slack in the past because the team he inherited was crafted by Millen, but expectations were high heading into his third season.
"If we win 10 or 11 ballgames and make the playoffs, it would make us happy and make the fans happy," Mariucci said before the season.
Mariucci's agent, Gary O'Hagan, declined comment when reached Monday night.
Detroit's quarterback situation also hurt Mariucci's chances for success.
Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in 2002, has failed to be consistent throughout his career. The Lions signed 35-year-old Jeff Garcia to push or replace Harrington, but he has been nagged by injuries and an inability to throw deep passes.
The Lions' porous offensive line has added to their passing- and running-game woes while a decent defense has been hampered by being on the field too long, and by injuries.
Millen, who was fined $200,000 by the NFL because he didn't follow the NFL's minority hiring policy when he hired Mariucci, said he would follow league guidelines when he searches for a permanent coach.
Jauron, Detroit's defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was fired in 2003 after four losing seasons in five years with the Bears. He was selected as NFL coach of the year during his lone winning season in Chicago.
"We need to take these next five weeks, and we need to play ... and see what we can get out of it," Jauron said. "I don't have plans other than the next game."
Jauron began his NFL career as a fourth-round pick of the Lions in 1973 after starring at Yale. The defensive back and kick returner, who played in the 1975 Pro Bowl, spent his first five seasons in Detroit.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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